“Christopher’s Personal Idorean Device here. You will want pizza for tonight.”
“Thanks for telling me. I’m ready for the recipe you picked out.” Twenty-two-years-old, away from my mother, and the P.I.D. makes the living easy. I like my hair short, but I’ll wait until the program predicts when I want it cut. I do like the new autumn colored shirt it said I would buy. It makes my brown eyes appear larger.
Before starting the pizza, the doorbell rang. I sighed when I saw who it was.
“I had a prediction you would be home now, Mr. O’Brian,” said Mr. Milkin. “Where’s my rent money?”
Sometimes the predictions were not so great. No putting off paying rent. The Landlord Idorean always told Mr. Milkin how much I had and when.
“I am permanently laid off from the Keep It home security manufacturer. Crime decreased so much, they are closing my plant. I only have half the money. I’m sure I’ll find another job soon.”
“I’m sure you will. I will let you stay here for half the month. Thank you Mr. O’Brian.” He counted the money as he walked away rather than saying goodbye to me.
“You will put away the pizza ingredients because you will watch TV.”
“Oh yeah. News comes on now. I want to watch it.”
I turned on the TV. What would it predict for tomorrow? I listened while putting away the pepperoni and mozzarella.
“The roads will be safer,” said an anchorwoman with supermodel classiness. “Vehicle Idorean has scientifically designed its algorithms to prevent car crashes. This means there can be less car crash testing and therefore reduce the cost of cars.
“In other news, the police predict the need for prisons will be reduced by 20% this year. By 2050, it is hoped the need for incarceration will be reduced to less than 10% annually.
“Tomorrow’s weather is sunny. Thirty five people with ten dogs are forecast for the small park. One hundred and two people with twenty five dogs will be at the large park. Of the twenty five dogs, three will not be on a leash. So enjoy yourself in the parks.”
I shut the TV off. I may not be able to predict people in a park, but I enjoy a pizza with ice cream afterwards. When reaching for the dessert, all my freezer items fell on the floor. The computerized refrigerator display came to the rescue. “You will take out the ground beef for hamburgers for dinner tomorrow. You will relocate the frozen vegetables on the right so there will be room on the left for the ice cream.” It was easier to let the Home Idorean decide for me, right down to projecting what I will buy at the grocery store.
“Retail Idorean says you will be an excellent employee, Chris. I don’t know what I would do without that program.” George Hargrove, my new manager, scanned the store with so much pride, his chest expanded like a blowfish. With a pat on my back, he said, “You’ll learn to love it here.”
As we went past both full and empty shelves, we stopped at boxes left to be stocked. The manager explained where to put items to follow the predictions of the program.
“Do you have any questions?” Mr. Hargrove asked.
“Yes. Why are some of the shelves so empty? Sometimes there will be plenty when I want an item and next to it, products will be gone.”
“Do you find what you need?”
“Yes. It is always there.”
“Then what does it matter what other people need or don’t need?”
A long retired woman with a thrift shop dress and a scarf over her ears, stopped to pick up the last bottle of shampoo. “How many was it this time, George?”
“One hundred ninety nine.”
“I sure am glad I am not the 200th customer.”
Mr. Hargrove laughed. “Goodbye, Scarlett.” The manager looked at me. “There will be no 200th customer. The forecast says so.”
“Why was she so satisfied when she had only the one bottle to choose from? Sometimes I wish for more choices.”
“Because the shampoo is cheap. Thank goodness for just-in-time marketing. You should remember that from manufacturing.” Mr. Hargrove sliced the air with his left hand. “I receive exactly the right amount of product,” he sliced the air again with his right hand, “for exactly the right number of customers.” Dreamily he continued. “God bless those algorithms.”
“What is an algorithm?”
“My boy! It is the secret to the success of Patron Idorean, the genius father of all Idorean programs. It uses mathematical procedures to solve problems. In my case how much to buy for the number of customers I will have.”
“But how can it be so precise?”
“Statistics. Everything depends on the correct statistics. Collection, analysis, interpretation. Idorean does it all.”
The explanation demeaned me to a mathematical equation.
Needing laundry soap, I saw two brands to choose from. I usually chose the blue box, but wondered if the red box would do a better job of cleaning. I picked up the red box and headed for the checkout.
When the clerk scanned the barcode, an alarm like a school bell clanged next to my ears.
“Sorry Chris,” she yelled over the alarm. “I have to call Mr. Hargrove.”
The ringing in my ears deafened me as I waited for the manager.
When he arrived, the manager inserted a key to stop the alarm. “The program usually doesn’t make mistakes. Is this your usual brand of laundry detergent?”
“No.” I held up the red box. “I wondered if this would do a better job of cleaning hamburger grease from my shirt.”
“Retail Idorean knows best. Go back and pick up your usual brand.”
I walked the length of the store to snatch my usual brand. If I didn’t need to wash clothes, I would have left the box there. What would that do to its calculations? Maybe the computer would become angry too.
“Christopher. Christopher O’Brian. Wait up for me.” It was after work and I was on the sidewalk. The middle aged woman’s windblown long hair appeared as carelessness. Her clothes attempted to be stylish, but she was too fat and three years too late.
“What can I do for you?” Maybe I’d beat the predictor in helping her.
“My name is Hillary Crankshaft. I bought the Dating Idorean. According to it, you are my,” she paused to squeal in delight, “my perfect mate.”
My shoulders slumped and I sighed. Straightening up, I answered her.
“I’m only twenty-two, too young for you. I never bought that program. How did it come up with my name?”
“I don’t know, but you are so handsome. I never thought I would be matched with someone as young and good looking as you.”
Now the mathematics calculated she was the perfect mate for me?
“What did it predict about us?”
“It says you need help making the right choices in stores. I’m good at budgeting, cooking and cleaning. I’ll make the perfect housewife.”
Now Patron Idorean went too far in its projections. “You are not for me. You are nice and all, but I think someone else is better for you.”
After turning to leave, I heard her crying and calling my name. I did not respond. Stopping this nonsense now would save her heartache tomorrow.
All Idoreans’ predictions increasingly provoked me like teasing a lion. The computer program cramped my freedom. I wanted to learn from my mistakes. Who knows? Maybe I would find something better than what the computer foresaw.
“Christopher’s Personal Idorean Device here. You will call Hillary Crankshaft for a date.” It was the third time and it irritated me. I pitched the Personal Idorean Device against the wall as if it was a baseball. The device shattered.
I wanted to do something the computer would not predict or have control over.
I found a piece of paper and a pen and wrote a letter to God.
I don’t want to marry Hillary. I would rather
marry someone I can protect, help and share my life with.
I ask for a life lived without Idorean predictions.
I folded it and put it in my pants’ pocket where no one would notice it. It was another way to rebel against decisions made for me.
The same evening I listened as blaring sirens and red and blue flashing lights of a police car came closer and closer. When they stopped in front of my house, two police officers exited their car and walked to my door, each one with a hand on their holster.
“Are you Christopher O’Brian?”
“Yes. Why are you here?”
“We are here to take you to the police station for questioning.”
“Sirens and lights for only questioning? What did I do wrong?”
“We have predictions you will start a riot.”
My neck leaned forward and eyes widened as I said “Me?!”
That startled the cops into pulling their guns and frisking me. They found my letter to God.
“Come with us quietly, or we will handcuff you.”
I rubbed and shook my head as they followed me out the door.
The questioning room was only ten feet by twelve. The mirror probably had someone watching on the other side. Across the table from me sat a detective with an attack dog’s growl in his voice. In the corner, stood another one. That one had a pointed nose and lots of teeth like a shark.
“Do you know why you have been brought in?” asked shark face.
“I’m told I will start a riot, but I don’t know what gave the police such an idea.”
“The proof is your rebellion against Patron Idorean programs,” accused attack dog face.
I squirmed and decided to play innocent. “When?”
“You intentionally tried to purchase the wrong soap. Hillary Crankshaft complained to us about refusing to even date her. Then Mr. Milkin reported the hole you created in his wall by throwing your Personal Idorean Device.”
I raised one eyebrow. “Why didn’t Idorean predict me throwing it?”
Shark face’s voice echoed as he circled around me. “That is not! For you! To question!”
Attack dog face, inches from my nose, said, “You are invalidating the algorithms!”
When I leaned quietly back rather than returning his anger, he reseated himself and calmed down.
“Here is the best and final proof you will start a riot.” Shark face exposed his white teeth while sliding my folded up letter to God toward me. “Don’t you know God doesn’t exist? He can’t do anything for you. Idorean can be your god.”
I remained silent.
I thought shark face wanted to bite me. “Are you listening?”
“I never said anything about a riot. Or inviting people to join me in rebellion. I bought the P.I.D., so I should be able to do with it what I want. I never said Hillary is a bad person. What kind of algorithm predicts choosing for myself will be a bad thing?”
“Look what happened when you did,” snarled attack dog. You tried to buy someone else’s detergent. You hurt Hillary Crankshaft’s feelings. You damaged your landlord’s wall.”
“Well, if I had been given a choice, all those things wouldn’t have happened.”
“That’s ridiculous. Patron Idorean predicts what is best for everyone. Your choices were not for the best.”
My rebellion grew as I listened to the detectives. The programs represented to me everything I did not want. Especially Hillary Crankshaft. “I plan on choosing what I want, not what is predicted for me.” Predicted, my foot. Dictated is more like it.
Then shark face said, “Then we will reprogram you.”
I was skeptical as a cat who knows there is a pill in the food.
“You will wear an ankle cuff. It will give you a shock every time you do not follow what is best for you. It will start with vibrate and increase voltage each attempt at rebellion.”
God? This is freeing me from Patron Idorean?
The police brought me home. On my ankle, they put a seatbelt like strap attached to a small, square plastic box holding the electronics. If I didn’t charge it every night, they would come for me again.
I obeyed . . . for a while. Buying the same flavor of toothpaste each time was boring. I wanted to go to a restaurant rather than save money for a used bicycle to save commuting gas money to save for a new dryer. It seemed like a lie.
“Personal Idorean Device here. You need to buy Corn Flakes and ground beef.”
Just to spite it, I quit buying dry cereal and ground beef. I walked to work to save money to escape.
When the cuff noticed I refused to buy food, I experienced vibrations from the ankle pest. It didn’t feel bad, but I only had electrical shocks to look forward to, just like a dog on a shock collar.
The new P.I.D. informed me I would buy a new vacuum cleaner. I glanced at the carpet. It appeared clean enough to me. I ignored the statement. I expected a static electricity strength shock, but the short burst of voltage shot up to my head like a dog after a squirrel. I didn’t notice the burning sensation on my ankle until after the effect wore off a couple of minutes later.
My satisfaction at rebelling didn’t last long. The second day I refused to search for a vacuum cleaner, the jolt became a high line wire running through my body. Afterward, I plopped down in a chair. I was nervous and shaking like a man with Parkinson’s who missed hitting a car. When rested, I ran water on my ankle to soothe the searing pain the shock had given me.
Now the test of my will to refuse to obey and Idorean’s will to force me to respond became a life and death battle. The offensive ankle demon required removal. A knife on the strap didn’t work, but the squeeze of a pliers cracked the plastic casing. Immediately, the current paralyzed my body, but not so long it stopped my heart. When it released, I shuddered like an innocent man at the gallows. What to do next. It was hard to think. I needed a glass of water. I wobbled to the faucet. My hands trembled and the glass of water fell on the cracked ankle cuff box. The water shorted it out. The pain from the cuff disappeared, probably dead nerves. Too weak to do anything else, I passed out on the couch.
I awoke to the vibration of riding in a car. In the police car, I overheard the officers talking.
The driver said, “I don’t know what is wrong with this guy. I love knowing products will be there for me to buy. Patron Idorean said it was too expensive to keep re-programming him.”
The other officer said, “And it is too expensive to dispose of a dead body. The prediction is he will die the death of a wild animal where we are taking him.”
Out the window, I viewed farm robots efficiently doing their work. Farther on, the crop fields stretched out farther apart, finally converting to desert with rocks and cactus.
The car stopped, but the men left the engine running. One officer yanked me out the door by my arm, and when the other man could reach it, he grabbed my free arm. My feet were still in the car, so they heaved my body onto the rocky ground. They did not even look back as they drove away.
No water. No food. No hat. No nothing. They weren’t kidding about being like a wild animal. Cactus may have water, but I had no knife. Most of the surrounding rock formations appeared steep and unpromising. My imagination perceived trees in the distance. Trees meant water, so I picked my way toward the grove.
As I approached the trees, a young lady about my age passed between the trees riding bareback on a Clydesdale horse. She came toward me. Long flowing locks of auburn hair accented her healthy tan. She was medium build, no makeup and smiled at me.
I stood dumbfounded until she reached me.
“My father heard the police car and said ‘There goes another Idorean reject’.”
I nodded. “Yes. That is what I am. But . . . you are a reject too?”
She laughed. “No, my grandfather and grandmother were rejects. But the predictions did not allow for their knowledge of gardening, building, and training horses. Freedom of the Culls is a community of rejects and my parents were born into it. Would you like to join us?” She patted the horse’s rump. “There is plenty of room on Clipper to take you.”
I grinned and jumped on.
Maybe God answered my prayer after all.